Monday, April 23, 2007
Greatest entertainer of our generation
Bless BBC and their old world cricket commentary team back in 1994, and their hourly commentary updates with Jonathan Agnew. At a time when watching anything but an India match was a rarity, we were kept updated and had extended commentary sessions of test matches and county championships from far away. I recall that late April night when they excitedly switched back to Antigua to report about a certain Brian Lara batting on 365, just about to break the single most important batting record. A pull shot, that went for four, later he had done exactly that, in what was just his third century. Considering that his first two were that famous 277 against Australia and 167 against England, this was not very surprising. He had arrived a long time ago, this was just stamping his authority.
Lara was one of the reasons why I became a compulsive test match cricket watcher. Mark Waugh's finesse, Warne's magic, wrists of Azhar and Laxman, patience of Atherton, fire of Donald, concentration of Dravid, swing and reverse of Waqar and Wasim also rank high up. But Lara and his single handed genius, focus and resolve has to take the cake. You just have to recall the series in which West Indies were all out for 51 in the first innings of the series against Australia and were ridiculed throughout. Lara took over after that, and two unforgettable test matches later had the much less talented West Indies side win the series 2-1.
Sure there were disappointments. His 5-0 test series loss in South Africa, frequent disciplinary actions, fickle ODI form, the never ending cycle of sacking and re-appointing as captain and the but natural loss of form. There always are. But, if ever the form-is-temporary-class-is-permanent cliche was personified, it was through Brian Charles Lara. What else could explain a horrid run of form going into Murali's territory and coming out with 650+ runs in a 3 match series. Widely regarded as the best single handed batting performance in a series.
Then he has to get all those records to statistically prove that he is a cut above the rest. England come to Antigua again and he gets 400. Scores 501 for Warwickshire. Destroys Peterson to get the maximum in an over. The maximum centuries. The maximum runs. Every record that's worth anything is against his name. Even for someone who doesn't watch cricket and looks at figures that define the game, choosing the best would be but a formality.
A year which sees first Warne and then Lara retire. What would happen to test cricket now?